Harvard faculty allows undergraduates to minor

Harvard College will allow students to add a secondary field — analogous to a minor — to their degree in addition to their primary concentrations, university officials announced Tuesday.

The Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences approved by voice vote a measure enabling students to receive diploma recognition for four to six courses in a secondary concentration. This measure marks the first changes to result from the three-and-a-half-year-old Harvard College Curricular Review. Similar changes do not appear to be in the works at Yale.

“The faculty voted overwhelmingly in favor of the motion,” said Robert Mitchell, a spokesman for the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Harvard biology professor David Haig, a member of the Educational Policy Committee that drafted the proposal, said the new secondary fields legislation will offer students much-needed flexibility in choosing their course of study.

“The decision was driven partly by a feeling of dissatisfaction with the way certain concentrations were working for many students, and the students’ desire to get credit for work in more than one field,” Haig said.

Haig acknowledged that there is some trepidation among the faculty that the option of secondary fields might create more pressure than it alleviates.

“The question is what effect the legislation will have on student choices,” Haig said. “It could create more pressures for students who feel that they have to take a secondary field, or it could create a freedom of choice.”

The EPC is still finalizing the legislation’s small print, including the question of whether secondary field courses can also count for Core requirements or a language citation — a question the faculty voted to refer back to the committee.

Nick Green, a junior at Harvard, said he feels the vast majority of students are pleased with the faculty’s decision. But he said he thinks the university has taken too long to approve the new policy.

“It’s about time,” Green said. “Students have been clamoring for it, and the faculty as been dragging its heels. We’ve been way behind the curve on this one.”

A motion at Yale to allow a similar policy of “correlated fields” gained momentum in 2001, but it was tabled due to a lack of departmental interest.

Two years later, the Committee on Yale College Education, in its 2003-2004 review of Yale’s undergraduate curriculum, discussed the possibility of minors but decided the proposed plan might jeopardize the University’s liberal arts philosophy.

Astronomy professor Charles Bailyn, who served on the Committee on Yale College Education, said he thinks the option of minors would place more pressure on students and limit the range of their course selections.

“Students seem to like to get extra credentials — after all, that’s how they got into places like Yale and Harvard in the first place,” Bailyn said in an e-mail. “So if one provides an official way to do so, they’ll mess with their schedules to satisfy whatever criteria are set forth, perhaps ignoring other courses they might actually benefit from more.”

Ryan Koscianski ’07 said he does not think Yale should offer minors.

“It doesn’t even matter whether you have a minor on your diploma,” Koscianski said. “It’s about the liberal arts degree. Yale’s not a vocational school. I hope Yalies don’t expect the name of their major to get them a job. They need to rely on their own resilience and intellect.”

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